June 30, 2008 Scientists at Scandinavian independent research organizationSINTEF have a new robot in the pipeline. That’s the aim, anyway. The team is working on a robot that can navigate inaccessible industrial pipes in order to check their condition, locate leakages, and clean the ventilation systems.
The robot is designed like a train, with 10-11 modules fitted with identical pairs of plastic-cast wheels. This allows it to travel easily through horizontal pipes, but when it comes to the difficult challenge of vertical manoeuvering, it has to get clever. By lifting its front against the pipe wall and wedging its body in place, the robot can corkscrew up and down vertical pipes by twisting around. The final version will be 1.5-meters long, and able to access any pipes with a minimum diameter of 20cm.
A time-of-flight camera uses inflected light to provide the robot with a bathymetric chart of the pipe system. “Combined with our algorithms, the robot will be able to navigate and move forward on its own,” says Jens Thielemann at SINTEF ICT. “The robot knows when a left or right turn is approaching and also contains a built-in path description detailing what tasks it should carry out in different situations.
“We are currently developing the vision system than will enable the robot to navigate,” says Thielemann. “In the meantime, we are using the Lego robot Mindstormer to collect the data to train the vision system. This Lego robot has a camera attached and moves around the pipe following a pre-programmed map. The next step will be to utilise the vision system as input to control the actual snake robot we are going to develop.”
The scientists hope to demonstrate a prototype model by the end of the year.